What if businesses recycled more than they sold? It’s entirely possible. In Belgium, IKEA now recycles more mattresses than it sells. And the company’s goal to be 100% circular by 2030 includes Australia.
Most of us have experienced the not-so relaxing task of replacing an old mattress. While the rise of mattress-in-a-box models have made it easier to purchase a new one, disposing of them at the end of their life has meant mattresses are one of the biggest contributors to landfill. But they don’t have to be.
At the H22 City Expo in Helsingborg, Sweden — a festival dedicated to the future of homes and how we can make them more sustainable — IKEA showcased its mattress recycling project in partnership with RetourMatras, which dismantles the used mattresses and recovers up to 90% of the materials.
Currently, RetourMatras can flip more than 200,000 used mattresses a year, turning the would-be landfill into repolyol, the main building block for new foam, which can be used in products like carpet underlay.
It’s clearly a project that’s at the heart of IKEA’s presence at H22, where the company’s Chief Creative Officer, Marcus Engman, talked me through the need for businesses to do more when it comes to sustainability.
“I think it’s common sense also,” he said. “If you’re doing furniture, which is like long-term commitments I would say, so you buy something and you want it to last and you want the world to last for your children, so to me it’s common sense to work with sustainability.
“But when it comes to how to break things down and so on into other products, I think we’re just starting in that area right now. Because the way that most people are taking care of most companies or taking care of products, it is into new technologies and materials, so grind it down into new materials. Metal works well because you can melt it down and then you can reuse it. But that’s still not efficient enough for the future, it still takes a lot of resources and energy to do that. So we need to find even more ways to do it.”
It harks back to IKEA’s origins in Älmhult, Sweden, in 1943, Engman noted.
“That was one of the poorest places in Sweden at the time, there’s zero resources and everything you had to make you had to make do with what you had,” he said. “So it comes from historical reasons as well. So if we do less waste we will be more sustainable.
“Now, next step into that is of course to do this more circular as well. Then we have to design for circularity and how do you break down the products. Maybe make them more component based for the future, so it’s not just about getting the material to be recyclable but actually components that could be put into new products and so on.”
While sustainability makes economic sense for businesses, Engman says, the pitfall can be overconsumption.
“For us it’s super important to actually go for reaching more people with great design and that’s what we try to do all the time,” he said.
“So we do great design, we lower the prices so more people can get ahold of it, but we don’t want to sell more to the same people, we actually want to reach more people because that will change the world to a better place if we do it that way. If we try all the time to sell more to the same people that could go for overconsumption and that’s not really smart. So this is a balance act to do that and we’re constantly learning.”
The H22 City Expo runs until July 3, 2022.